From the Marbles - NASCAR

Now that's how you raise the curtain on a new season.

Sports fans are accustomed to low expectations in the preseason. After a long offseason, we're like dateless wonders on prom night, so glad to get some attention that we're willing to put up with whatever humiliation our sports dish out. Baseball's spring training is one big six-week golf weekend for the players. Basketball's preseason is a barnstorming slog through towns like Sioux Falls and Peoria, where the players jump off the bus, sleepwalk through the game, and scurry right back to gated-community safety. And despite what HBO's Hard Knocks would have you believe, football's preseason is a miserable fan-screwing experience, where season-ticket holders are forced to pay to watch games played by the same guys that'll be painting fans' houses three weeks later.

But NASCAR...man, NASCAR redlines right out of the gate. Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout was more competitive than a decade's worth of Pro Bowls. And in the course of three days, NASCAR launched more storylines than a Lost season premiere:

-Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch continued their long-running two-step, trading paint in a Friday practice session and allegedly throwing fists in a closed-door meeting with NASCAR brass.

-Dale Junior, there at right, won the very first race he ran as Hendrick Motorsports' newest weapon.

-Your front row for Saturday's Daytona 500? Jimmie Johnson, reigning Cup champion, and Michael Waltrip, who had a wee bit of trouble staying on the light side of NASCAR law this time last season.

It's going to be a hell of a year, ain't it?

(By the way, I'm Jay Busbee. I'm pitching in around here through Daytona. Got some good tips/links/scoops/spare tickets? Hit me up at nascarmarbles@yahoo.com.)

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